Real stories of people who overcame addiction

August 25, 2016 | by Terry Ciszek, LCSW, CSADC
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

The struggle with addiction can be discouraging. It’s almost unavoidable. Without the alcohol, heroin, marijuana or other drugs you relied on for years to numb your pain and avoid dealing with life’s challenges, you have to find new ways to cope with life, while resisting the temptation of old behavior.

This is one of the many reasons we encourage patients at our treatment centers in Naperville and the surrounding area to look into local support groups. There is a deep human spiritual need to have a sense of “somebody else really gets me, I feel understood.” Many people with a substance use disorder feel like no one else understands what they’re going through. Sitting in a self-help group and hearing similar life stories as their own helps patients receive this sense of being understood.

It’s amazing for me to see that light bulb go on in people’s eyes during a group therapy session when they hear a story and realize it’s the same as their own. You can almost hear them thinking, “I can get to where you are. I’m not there yet, but this applies to me.”

The power of “our story” is the greatest gift we can give to one another. I thought I’d share a few of the many patient stories I’ve heard over the years. These stories are shared in an open, non-judgmental manner that helps one another let go of the shame and guilt that binds us to our addiction.

I hope these stories can help you see that there’s life beyond addiction. One day at a time we can begin to replace our relationship to our drug with caring and supportive human relationships within the self-help community.

It’s never too late for an addiction-free life

I used to run a counseling group for family members of people in treatment for addiction. Most of these family members were significant others, and most were wives of husbands dealing with addiction. One of these women had a husband who was addicted to cocaine. He was functional at work, but things started getting worse.

Then, on top of his addiction, he was diagnosed with cancer. And that woke him up.

His cancer diagnosis prompted him to get treatment for his cocaine addiction. At the same time he started chemotherapy, he was trying to get clean and sober from cocaine. And he did! His cancer was in remission, and he overcame his addiction.

Both spouses stayed in therapy afterward. She stayed in my family counseling group, and he was in a separate ongoing recovery group that met once a week, along with his regular Cocaine Anonymous meetings.

About two years into his recovery, the cancer came back.

He started chemotherapy again, but this time it wasn’t successful and he was only given a short time to live. While it was very sad news, they both agreed the last year and a half they had together was the best time of their entire marriage — all because he had gotten sober.

The husband spoke about how he got his life back and how grateful he was to be able to be there as a husband and a father. He was proud of himself for having beaten his addiction. His wife spoke about how proud and grateful she was that he had come back to her, if only for a short time.

When the husband died — a year and a half after he received his terminal diagnosis — he died sober.  Even during the grieving process, there was such a sense of gratitude in the family for the time they had together, free from addiction.

You can choose a path beyond addiction

I’ve told this story a number of times, and the patient has told me, “Please tell my story, because it’s important to hear!”

My first job out of graduate school was helping run a 28-day hospital inpatient addiction program. One of our counselors would go to the emergency room to help if a patient came in under the influence of drugs or alcohol and needed detoxification (detox) or inpatient care.

On this particular day, the counselor was off, and I got a call from the ER: “Terry, we have somebody down here — you’re not going to believe it, but come on down.”

I went down, and I saw a patient who had walked into the emergency room. This patient had astonished the ER staff with his blood alcohol concentration (BAC). According to the Illinois State Police, a BAC test of 0.08 percent results in a mandatory suspension of your driver’s license for six months. A BAC of 0.5 percent usually means the patient is in a coma or dead.

This patient’s breath sample showed a BAC of 0.8 percent — 10 times the legal limit. The ER staff members didn’t believe the test, so they tested the patient’s blood. Same result. That means this patient had ingested so much alcohol for so long that he’d developed an incredible tolerance to it.

But you’d never know from talking to this patient. He talked with me plainly and calmly as I took his history. He was 33 years old and reported that he’d gone through about 30 detoxes or treatments. From the age of 15 on, he’d been in treatment more than he’d been out.

I got in touch with this patient’s ex-wife, whom he was still in contact with. She’d gone through this process so many times that she had no confidence this time was going to be any different.

But it was. The man stayed with us for 28 days and beat his addiction to alcohol. After that, he became very involved in our continuing care program. With his newfound sobriety, his ex-wife started to come back into his life.

By the time I left that position three years later, the man was the head of our volunteer program for recovering patients. He would talk to people in detox and support their recovery efforts. At the same time, his ex-wife was leading one of our Al-Anon groups. And the two of them were engaged to be married again.

I asked this patient once, “Look, you’ve been at this for more than 15 years. What was it about this time?” He told me, “I just chose.”

That’s the key — making the choice to get well.

Make the choice to make a change

In another Healthy Driven blog, I talked about how families often prompt patients to take the first step in addiction recovery. These important people in your life might start the conversation, but only you can make the choice to get help.

You might think there’s no way out of your addiction. But there is hope. These are just two of the many success stories I’ve seen over the years. Like you, these individuals had a choice to make. Thankfully, they each chose a life free of the substances that had once controlled them.

What will you choose?

If you need help to deal with addiction, fill out this assessment form online, and one of our team members will contact you. You can also call us at 630-305-5027.

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